Blog Post

Digital Collections: Letters in War

Wanting to create a digital collection has been on my mind for about a year. I started this by accident. It began with a purchase of a set of WWI letters off Ebay. There were about 88 letters in the collection, and I realized after I began to read them, that they contained a voice the public doesn't often hear. So I bought another collection. This has continued for about a year now, as I gather images, photos, postcards and letters from both the First World War and the Second. It has become woven within my thesis work as well, and by using digital tools to assist in the research of the letters, I have started a separate web page with some of the case studies.

www.lettersinwar.weebly.com.

This project delves into the letters of the everyday soldier from both the First World War and the Second World War. Voices, which have not been added to the historical text, have been left out. Should we always rely on the famous people who published their letters in book form? Would there be an agenda to selectively publishing only a certain portion of letters into a book? What can we glean from using digital tools to data mine the collection of forgotten letters found in attics or shoe boxes? This personal project is a journey into discovering what these letters hold and how to pull their messages out. 

Using digital tools in research, such as Voyant-tools.org, can add value to traditional methodology by assisting in finding trends or repetition in word uses and word choices of the letters' authors, and delving deeper into understanding text by prying apart a vast data collection of these letters. The goal of this project is to support argument for my own personal thesis work, by establishing that published letters in book form during the war maintained a strong connection to the battlefields, and urged readers, who may be soldiers, to endure the fight. I feel that this was not the pulse of reality on the front lines. 

The collections of letters that I have gathered, along with images and pictures associated with each set, will eventually become an archive that all students will be able to access, so that future generations can also study the words written in these unpublished letters of the everyday soldier. So, I'm at point where I have an idea in my head of how I want to set up this archive, but I'm stuck there. While I have the data, I don't think that I have all the expertise to construct it. This is where I need help. I need some like minded people who will love these letters and other documents as much as I do and assist in creating this archive. I guess the first thing that needs to be done is to organize and digitize the letters and images, and find a place to house the 2000 to 3000 letters that are currently in this collection. (It continues to grow.) So I'm open to suggestions, feedback, and most importantly help. 

56

2 comments

Jana, 

Thank you.  

Connie

88

Connie:

I work with a very large War Letters Archive housed at Chapman University in southern California.  The website for the collection is here: http://www.chapman.edu/research-and-institutions/cawl/index.aspx  We continue to actively seek out new letters to add to our collection, which may be a good repository for the original letters that you have acquired via ebay.

Additionally, in my digital humanities class we do several hands-on projects using these letters, including digitizing, transcribing, and topic modeling, and I welcome collaborators on these projects.

Please feel free to contact me directly if you'd like: remy@chapman.edu

 

Best,

Jana

60